Unlock student data: an easy way to reformat UC Davis rosters

One of the first tasks I had as head TA for BIS2C was to build up a master roster/gradebook for the course. One way to accomplish this is to download the gradebook from Smartsite. This works well for basic uses, but lacks additional information about students that we might want to analyze, such as major or class (i.e. sophomore vs junior). Continue reading

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5 Active Learning Strategies to Try in Your Classroom

This is the third in a collection of posts about topics covered in “A Learner-Centered Approach to Effective Teaching,” a workshop series offered by the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). By writing these posts, I hope to solidify my grasp of the topics covered and provide useful information for the college teaching community.

Think about how you would teach someone to change a tire on a bicycle.

I would probably talk through the process with the person, answering questions as we went. Then I would demonstrate how the process works on one wheel, and ask the person to try changing the tire on the other wheel. What I probably wouldn’t do is show the person a series of slides on how to change a tire and then ask them to come back in a month to try it out for themselves. The first approach, which I think is much more natural, is an example of active learning – the student is constructing knowledge as they go and actually tries to solve a problem. The second approach is an example of passive learning, where the student simply receives the information from the instructor without really engaging with it. Continue reading

Will this affect my grade? Using formative assessments to drive learning

This is the second in a collection of posts about topics covered in “A Learner-Centered Approach to Effective Teaching,” a workshop series offered by the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). By writing these posts, I hope to solidify my grasp of the topics covered and provide useful information for those unable to attend the workshop.

What’s in a typical syllabus? Most begin with a description of the course, lay out a series of lecture topics and reading assignments, and then delve into grading policies. These policies are generally designed with three purposes in mind: to provide accountability to students, to determine the suitability of each student for advancement, and to describe how students compare to some standard. The tools used to enact these policies – tests, quizzes, graded essays etc – are known as summative assessments. While these types of assessments do a good job at determining whether a student has achieved particular learning outcomes, they do little to actually promote learning.

This leads me to what is often missing from syllabi – Continue reading

Backward Design: An Introduction

This is the first in a collection of posts about topics covered in “A Learner-Centered Approach to Effective Teaching,” a workshop series offered by the UC Davis Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL). By writing these posts, I hope to solidify my grasp of the topics covered and provide useful information for those unable to attend the workshop.

We began the first workshop in the series, “Where to start: Backward design and student learning outcomes,” by thinking about how courses are typically planned in the instructor-centered model of learning. In this model, the instructor uses their expertise to assemble lectures that transmit knowledge to students about a particular topic. One difficulty with this approach is that, for any given topic, there is far more information available than can possibly be covered in single lecture (or even an entire semester in many cases). How, then, do instructors typically decide what to include? Continue reading

Behind the scenes in a 650-student biology course

For the past year, I have worked as a teaching assistant (TA) for BIS2C (Biodiversity and the Tree of Life), which is the third and final course in the introductory biology series at UC Davis. Successful completion of the introductory series is required before students can move on to take upper division biology courses. The course is offered every quarter, with enrollments ranging from 600-1000 students. Those students attend four 1-hour lectures and one 3-hour lab each week. I want to use this blog post to give you some insights into the people and resources that make such a large course possible. Continue reading